First off, it’s whiskey – with an ‘e’ – if
you’re talking Irish whiskey, and if you’re talking Scotch, it’s
the latter. Just one of the things I learned in my private tasting,
organized for me by Martha Harrison, an Ontario-based Whiskey agent
and true enthusiast. (I shall use Whiskey from here on.)

My interest was piqued when Martha suggested I take a look at
some choice Irish whiskey, the likes of which we’ve not much in the
way of availability in Ontario. It really just rolls in for St.
Patrick’s day, sells out, and that’s
that.     

I’m very much
a beginner fan of both whiskey and Scotch, and one thing I’ve never
considered is why there’s such a discrepancy between the love for
Scotch and the love for Irish whiskey in North America.  Well,
in part it’s due to a recent explosion in people’s interest in
single malt Scotch, but mostly, however, Irish whiskey has had such
a late start in the exporting business that simply getting it
noticed amidst a sea of Scotch is an up-hill battle. 

I should qualify that this is the case with more boutique Irish
whiskey, like the Tyrconnell from Cooley Distillery that I had the
pleasure of tasting. Jameson, for example, is a prolific Irish
brand from one of the few long-standing giants, Irish Distillers,
that survived the harsh history. Beginning with England’s trade
embargo on Irish goods when Ireland struggled for independence,
followed immediately by the first World War, then prohibition and
then the second World War, Irish whiskey distilleries quite
literally dried up from over a 100 in the 1860s to only two by the
1970s.     

Well I can honestly say that although I’m no connoisseur, it
certainly was not due to taste. Most Irish whiskey is not known for
being peaty (a classic Scotch quality from processing the malt
barley by drying it with burning peat moss), and that’s just fine
with me, because one thing I do know is that I’m not a fan of Islay
Scotch, a peaty variety.  

THE BRAND 

Among others, Martha brought with her the Tyrconnell 10 Year Old
Single Malt Irish Whiskey (pictured above), finished in a Madeira
Cask, which just won the Gold Medal in IWSC (the International Wine and Sprits
Competition
) in 2008, and chosen Whiskey of the Year by Jim Murray,
the world’s leading Scotch/whiskey nose and author of the
Whisky Bible. (Actually,
today he’ll be appearing in Nanaimo, BC
,
tomorrow in Victoria
and he’ll be in
Cowichan Valley on the 26th of January
.) Tyrconnell’s producer,
Cooley, one of the first distilleries to start peppering Ireland
after the several-decade drought of smaller and medium size
producers.  

THE PARAPHERNALIA 

 

Here you see five glasses. Another, a simple tumbler, was lent
to us by the bar at Chez Victor in Toronto’s Le Germain Hotel,
where the tasting took place. A short description from left to
right:  

  • The Glencairn: A whiskey glass with history.
    Based on the glass type master blenders have used for centuries, it
    is more closed at the top and often made of ordinary glass, with a
    thicker lip.
  • Riedel Single Malt Whiskey Glass: A nice
    ‘thistle’ shape that’s really more about delivery than proper
    nosing, as it’s thin, turned out lip allows an overwhelming amount
    of sent to escape. Despite its relative shunning by those in the
    industry, it remains a popular choice among consumers.
  • Eisch Breathable Glass with Lid: A somewhat
    controversial technology by which the lead-free, crystal-glass
    vessels are “oxygenated”, claiming to aerate whatever goes in them
    much faster than by way of regular decanting. The lid serves as
    aroma loss control.
  • Single Malt Tasting Glass: Another
    unidentified typical single malt tasting glass, both tapered like a
    ‘thistle’ – good for nosing – and with a slightly turned out lip
    for delivery.
  • Schott Zwiesel Single Malt Glass: A nice
    ‘tulip’ shape, slightly elongated like the Eisch, but closed at the
    top like the Glencarin, and the largest of the stemmed
    options.
  • Generic Tumbler (not pictured): Generally in
    use due to a North American preference to drink whiskey on the
    rocks, rarely used in single malt tastings.

COLOUR AND TASTE 

Martha chose the 10 year old Madeira finish for me to try,
having heeded my anti-peat preferences, and boy was she right! I
truly loved it. She poured me a ‘dram’ in all six glasses and
deciding to cab it back to the office, I had me a healthy sip of
all six, with no spit glass in site.  

Upon first pour we examined the colour – nice rich caramel,
medium to dark intensity, which speaks both of its finishing in the
Madeira cask and of its fine age of 10 years. (Really, we should
have done it on a white tablecloth to see better the colour, but we
had to wing it.)

Tasting it initially and as I went through the glasses, Martha
confirmed for me hints of honey, orange zest, marzipan and caramel.
Certainly a lush, fragrant bouquet with no peat to speak of. Here’s
what I thought of the different glasses:

  • The Tumbler: An overwhelming waft of alcohol
    upon first putting glass to nose, harsher to taste than the
    rest. 
  • The Glencairn: Very uncomfortable to nose –
    too small! (Or maybe I have a big nose?) Also a bit boozy, but less
    so than the tumbler.
  • Riedel Sigle Malt Whiskey Glass: Lovely and
    elegant to hold, really is great on delivery – straight to the
    centre of the tongue – however, noticeably not as lush on
    aroma. 

 

 

From the left: the tumbler, the Glencairn, Riedel Single
Malt
 

•  The Medium Stemmed Glass
(unidentified):
Better on nosing then the previous three,
and milder on taste. Not all that notable however.
•  Schott Zwiesel Glass: My favourite! Martha
actually let me keep it (!) because I kept coming back to it to
confirm my findings and every time the whiskey opened up
beautifully, with the most concentrated notes of sweet caramel and
honey in the tasting.
•  Eisch Breathable Glass with Lid:
I don’t want to knock it, but the whole thing went over my head, or
I should say, palate. I almost broke the delicate lid and concluded
only that it was the mildest in both taste and aroma. Please feel
free to offer your experience with this glass if you have any.

MARTHA’S TIPS 

•  Water: Only a cap-full! But it will open up the flavour
immensely and most professionals will always taste with a splash of
water. A word of caution: the more neutral the better. May be less
beneficial to your health, but the more mineral content the more
interference with the spirit.
•  Rocks: Martha does not sanction it, but to each their own.
Once melted they completely dilute the spirit, and the colder the
whiskey the less flavour and aroma.
•  Warming and Swishing (Aerating): Sure, but if it’s fine
whiskey or Scotch, use a single malt glass such as one of the
above. A tumbler only detracts from the experience.
•  Food Pairing: Great for before and after dinner. The more
peaty varieties are great with smoked fish such as sturgeon and
salmon, and even smoked mussels. The sweeter, mellower whiskey such
as the Tyrconnell Madeira finish is great with dessert: caramelized
figs, crème brule, gingered pastries.
•  Storage: Simply keep it tightly corked, and it can last for
several years after opening. Decanting into another vessel is fine
in theory, but there may be more loss due to evaporation.
•  Availability: The Tyrconnell 10 Year Single Malt Irish
Whiskey, Madeira Finish is available online through the LCBO at
$119.00 for 700ml. For all other inquiries outside of Ontario,
contact Martha at Connexion Oenophilia Inc.   

I know that was a long one, but whiskey is no fast food.
Have you any love for the water of life?